PROVIDENCE – When this possibility – Providence College playing at Brown – was first rumored last spring, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
A school hailing from the Big East that’s willing to serve as the away team in a venue that houses an Ivy League participant? Surely you jest?
What was once thought a mere pipedream becomes reality Friday night when the Friars take the steep climb up Waterman Street before hanging a left onto Hope Street. A few blocks down sits the Pizzitola Center, home to the Bears and site for what is truly a rare occasion.
The last time Providence played at Brown was November 30, 1982. Joe Mullaney was in his second tour of duty coaching the Friars while Otis Thorpe was a junior. Since that particular meeting – won by the Friars, 70-56 – the two intra-city neighbors have played 26 consecutive times on PC’s turf.
There will be no 27th occurrence. This time, the Bears and their 2,800-seat athletic center – all the seats will be accounted for come opening tip – are the ones playing the role of hosts.
“To get (the Friars) in our building is a great thing for the Brown community,” said Pawtucket’s T.J. Sorrentine, presently the associate head coach at Brown.
Naturally, the first question that springs to mind is why Providence head coach Ed Cooley would agree to shake up the longstanding order and play at Brown. The more you think about it, what Cooley is doing makes perfect sense.
If you take the side roads, the distance from the front doors of the Pizzitola Center to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center is a little more than two miles. Such close proximity did not lessen the guarantee “buy” package PC would pay Brown to come down from College Hill. Yet at a time when the Friars have talked about securing more charter flights to away games, it appears to make perfect sense to pocket the money that would normally fill the Bears’ coffers and secure another non-conference road contest.
Secondly, Cooley feels that the Pizzitola Center’s tight quarters can help prepare the Friars when the time comes to play at non-NBA size arenas during Big East play. Two such examples jump out as PC visits Villanova and The Pavilion (accommodates 6,500 for hoops) on Feb. 3 and Rutgers’ 8,000-seat building on Feb. 23.
“We want to put our kids in a hostile situation as much as we can,” stated Cooley. “Anything we can do non-league to help us during the league, we try to do,”
The fact that the short trek to Brown comes on the heels of last Saturday’s frustrating 71-68 loss at Boston College isn’t lost on Cooley.
“We’ve got to learn how to play and win on the road,” he remarked. “We’re coming off a really bad loss on the road at Boston College and we’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves back up and get on the winning track.”
Added Sorrentine, “For the most part, (Providence) plays in big arenas. Now they get to play in a small arena and have the fans right on top of them. It’ll be loud and should be an exciting game.”
From Brown’s vantage point, having a Big East member ring the doorbell for an opportunity to come in couldn’t be passed up. Cooley says that initial talks began when Jesse Agel was still head coach of the Bears. The sides continued to have an open dialogue at a time when wholesale changes were taking place on Brown’s campus, most notably new faces in the chairs reserved for school president, athletic director and men’s basketball head coach.
As the person in charge of locking up the Bears’ non-Ivy League foes, Sorrentine had to convince the new members of the Brown community that having Providence pay a visit represented a boon on several levels. Naturally, everyone from athletic director Jack Hayes down to head coach Mike Martin gave the St. Raphael Academy alum the green light to get an attractive home game on the schedule.
“From a recruiting standpoint, it’s nice to be able to say, ‘We’re playing Providence College at home.’ That’s why we’re going to try to get a ton of prospective student-athletes to the game to see the atmosphere and see what this place can be like,” Sorrentine said. “The atmosphere for this game is what we want to create here. When you win games, that’s what happens.”
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in making PC-at-Brown a definite was finding a convenient date that would cater more toward the Friars. To that end, Sorrentine mentioned that there was plenty of back-and-forth with PC assistant Brian Blaney, the point man when it comes to scheduling.
With “Disney on Ice” taking center stage at The Dunk this week, Providence and Brown officials had a time frame that could be narrowed down.
“They’re doing us a favor by coming over here so we need to facilitate them by finding a date that works on their side,” Sorrentine noted.
While Cooley calls Friday’s game “a win-win for the community,” he’s not about to take the PC-Brown series and turn it into a “one year here, one year there” deal. For one evening, though, it makes perfect sense to flip the script and let Brown have home-team honors.
“Big day,” affirmed Sorrentine. “From the administration on down, everyone at Brown is pumped up.”